CINCINNATI -- A critical stretch of seven straight games vs. National League Central rivals for the Reds began Friday vs. the Cardinals. It started as the July 30 Trade Deadline sits one week away.
A good result for the Reds over the next week could further entice ownership and the front office to be Deadline buyers for a playoff push. While the biggest need for bullpen help was again laid bare with another blown lead, Cincinnati's offense picked up its relievers with three late runs and a 6-5 win over St. Louis at Great American Ball Park.
“No panic, really," said shortstop Kyle Farmer, who was 3-for-4 with a home run and scored the game-winning run in the eighth inning. "I don’t even think guys look at the scoreboard, honestly, in the dugout. We just kind of went about our business, kind of had to keep our confidence going."
It was a 5-5 game in the bottom of the eighth inning when Farmer led off with a single to left field against Cardinals reliever Giovanny Gallegos. Pinch-hitter Tucker Barnhart grounded to Gallegos in what should have been a double play, but everybody was safe after the pitcher's errant throw to second base. Jesse Winker's four-pitch walk from Gallegos loaded the bases with one out.
Tyler Stephenson's sacrifice fly to center field scored Farmer with the go-ahead run.
"I just don’t try to do too much. Obviously, I know the situation," said Stephenson, who has delivered in clutch moments many times this season. "With one out, just trying to find something to hit, elevate it enough to just hit it in the air."
The Reds (50-47) remained 6 1/2 games behind the first-place Brewers in the division standings but improved to 1 1/2 games ahead of the third-place Cardinals. The fourth-place Cubs are 2 1/2 games behind the Reds, and those teams play each other next week.
"They are still in it and are all really good teams," Reds manager David Bell said. "It takes your best baseball to play with them and to hopefully win games, and that’s what it took tonight. Every one of them is important. They’re fun to be a part of. These games are within our division, and hopefully, they’re enjoyable to watch."
Farmer's solo homer to left field in the fourth inning against Wade LeBlanc gave the Reds a 3-2 lead. In the top of the fifth, Tyler Mahle issued three straight walks to load the bases with one out but escaped with two strikeouts. The 30-pitch inning ran Mahle's pitch count to 95, which got the bullpen involved a little early.
Edgar García replaced Mahle with poor results as all four of his batters reached with hits. The crusher was Andrew Knizner's ground-rule double out of reach for right fielder Aristides Aquino. Two runs scored, and St. Louis took a one-run lead. Ryan Hendrix replaced García and got the Reds out of the jam following a sacrifice fly by Dylan Carlson.
More trouble loomed in the top of the seventh when Reds reliever R.J. Alaniz hit his first batter and walked the second. Alaniz came out of the game with a calf injury, and rookie Tony Santillan was summoned.
This time, the bullpen stepped up big. Santillan retired the rest of the side in order with two strikeouts to grease the wheels for a comeback.
In the bottom of the seventh against Cardinals reliever Ryan Helsley while trailing, 5-3, the Reds opened with back-to-back singles by Stephenson and Joey Votto's third hit of the game. Eugenio Suárez rolled an RBI double down the left-field line, and a Helsley wild pitch brought Votto home as the tying run.
Brad Brach struck out two batters in a perfect eighth inning before the offense took control of the game. Heath Hembree struck out the side in the ninth for his seventh save.
"It’s not always perfect, you know? Just picking each other up," Bell said. "It’s a big part of a bullpen. It goes a long way just from a team standpoint, a culture standpoint for a bullpen when a guy doesn’t have the best night, and someone comes in behind them and gets them out of trouble and picks them up. And that happened a couple times tonight. That was the key."